Tram crash driver Dorris tells Old Bailey: ‘I’m deeply sorry’

Alfred Dorris, the driver of the Croydon tram that crashed at Sandilands in November 2016, yesterday wept in the dock of the Old Bailey as he gave evidence in his trial, saying to the families of the victims, saying: “I’m sorry that I became disoriented.”

Sorry: tram driver Alfred Dorris on trial at the Old Bailey over the 2016 Sandilands crash

It is suggested that the tram could have been travelling at three times the 12mph speed limit when it derailed on the curve coming out of the tunnel before the Sandilands stop.

Passengers Dane Chinnery, Donald Collett, Robert Huxley, Philip Logan, Dorota Rynkiewicz, Philip Seary and Mark Smith died in the crash, while 19 others of the 69 on board that early morning tram from New Addington travelling towards East Croydon were seriously injured in the crash.

Dorris, 49, from Beckenham, denies a charge of failing to take reasonable care at work under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Transport for London, the owners of the London Tram network, and their operators, FirstGroup-owned Tram Operations Limited, indicated in court last year that they will plead guilty to health and safety failings that led to the tragic crash.

The prosecutions are being brought by regulator the Office of Rail and Road.

Nearly seven years since Tram 2551 crashed on November 9, 2016, Dorris was giving evidence in public for the first time, having been excused from attending the earlier inquests.

On his outward journey to New Addington, Dorris said he did not experience any problems and was not tired, fatigued, distracted or disoriented. On the way back, it was only when he saw the Sandiland curve in the track that “all hell broke loose”.

He said: “From what I can remember I was driving as normal, I did not have any warning or anything like that.

“I just felt confused, disoriented. In my head I felt I was convinced that at that stage I was going towards Lloyd Park.”

Dorris said the first time he realised he was going the other way was when he saw the Sandilands curve. “It was like I went into shock. I could not do anything.

“I wanted to reach for the brake but at that stage the tram was already going over and I was thrown out of the chair and I could not do anything.

“I can remember being thrown from the chair to the side of the cabin and my shoulder took the impact and I hit the side of my head on the side of the cabin.

“I can remember lying on the floor and then it goes black, I passed out because I cannot remember the tram sliding or becoming stationary.

“The next thing, I remember hearing voices and people kicking trying to open the cabin door.”

Tragedy: seven passengers died and 19 suffered serious injuries in the tram crash near Sandilands in November 2016

Dorris said he “collapsed” when he was told that there were people under the tram.

Dorris became tearful as he described being arrested, having never been in trouble with police before. He said: “I was told that I was being arrested for manslaughter because of multiple fatalities. I was broken. I could not believe what I was hearing.”

Dorris’s defence barrister, Miles Bennett, said: “You said one of the issues causing you upset just after the event and into 2017 was you could not piece together in your mind what had happened and how you got to this state.

“Even with the passage of time now are you able to tell the jury how it is you became disoriented?”

Dorris replied: “No.”

The defendant told jurors that he had been excused from attending the inquests having suffered post-traumatic stress disorder. “For me, being in lockdown with my family suffering as I was, I just got worse and worse, a ticking timebomb waiting to go off and the family was in the firing line.

“One day I just lost control and me and my wife at the time had an altercation and I became very aggressive towards her and that was the beginning of the end of my marriage and we separated. That was the last time I saw my family, the last time I saw my daughter.”

Before the disaster, Dorris said he had been “proud” to be a tram driver.

Bennett asked: “Did you have any problems with fatigue when you went on to permanent earlies working on the trams?”

Dorris replied: “No, never.”

The prosecution alleges he may have had a “micro-sleep” while driving the tram. But Dorris told the court he had “never” had problems with fatigue, despite working early shifts.

Asked what he would have done if he had felt tired before a shift, he said: “I could have just explained I was not feeling fit to work and they would sign me off.”

Recalling the events that led to the tragedy, Dorris said, “I woke up in the morning expecting to have a normal day.

“I’m a human being and sometimes as a human being things happen to you that you are not in control of. I’m sorry that I became disorientated.

“And I’m deeply sorry I was not able to do anything to reorientate myself and stop the tram from turning over.

“I’m deeply sorry.”

The trial continues.

Read more: MP calls for better tram regulation as Old Bailey trial begins
Read more: Flawed inquest into tram crash is ‘Hillsborough repeating itself’
Read more: TfL ‘scandal putting passengers at risk’ over driver fatigue

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